Who are you, really? Gabor Mate, stress, and childhood attachment problems

That’s an interesting question. Sticking a “really” on the end of his question like that suggests that the speaker wants a different answer from the one you are giving. I had tried to explain who I am with descriptions of myself as a spiritual counselor and what I do. That didn’t satisfy my friend. He knows all of that. He wanted to know simply and succinctly who is White Eagle? I said that White Eagle is a spirit guide, one whom several people in the Santo Daime tradition share. He didn’t care about that either, even though he is a member of the tradition. We both respect and admire Padrinho Alex Polari and his wife Madrinha Sonia. I took my star with them four years ago. My friend knows all of that. I wondered “how do I do this? No one has ever persisted like this before. I don’t know how to answer him. I want to be sincere.” And then the response formed in my mind, almost like it was coming from the White Eagle himself. I said, “I smooth out wrinkles in the soul.”
My friend’s wife was sitting at the table listening to our exchange and when she heard my answer, she broke into a broad smile. Her husband, whose first language is not English, was looking at her for help. “It’s like an iron and an ironing board,” she said, “you know, you use an iron to smooth out wrinkles in clothing.” By now she was actually laughing, because the look on her husband’s face was hilarious. And then I thought about the image she was using. First there’s the bird, the eagle, which is white, standing at an ironing board with a psychic device which looks like a hot iron, running it over some person lying on a board. I started to laugh too. We were having fun. I didn’t have to get into the story of how I was given the name by the eagles in the northwest, White Eagle Lodgethe discovery of White Eagle as a channeled entity, or of the caboclos of Brazil. Baixinha and the Umbanda, Padrinho Sebastiao and the Mesa Branca didn’t have to come up, even though that is part of the story. Or the Peyote Ceremony when I discovered my nephew’s Santo Daime guide was aguila branca. He was about as astounded as I was.
I have been sitting with all this wondering about all of the synchronous magic which has happened throughout my life. I recently wrote to a young friend that Gabor Mate (2003)dr-gabor-mate said, referring to my friend’s medical condition, “There is encouraging research evidence that even minimal psychological intervention can be of benefit. (When the Body Says NO: The Cost of Hidden Stress (p. 155)” I asked him if he had, after suffering for 12 years in the care of his doctors, ever tried seeing a counselor. He answered in his characteristic truthfully humorous way with

“You mean just waiting for the end of the world is not a good strategy? Or some transformative rapture? Darn I was hoping for a long time. No I’ve never really seen a counselor. It probably could be helpful. Thanks for your care.”

White Eagle had figured out that the source of my friend’s illness was in his childhood, when his mom and dad were being emotionally abusive to one another and ending their marriage. The symptoms manifested physiologically several years later, but they were saying what the child must have been trying to express without words.  The images are of neglect, loneliness, and fear, like his inner world was was threatened with dissolution (like the world was coming to an end). When he was two years old, before narrative memories can be articulated, the feeling tones are what is remembered. The man in his thirties described his feelings as  vague, overwhelming, scary, darkness (as though he were about two years old). He gave me this description a couple of months ago.  Gabor Mate had the appropriate words and my friend heard them.


While reading Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It (1999), I noticed Mate was talking about the importance of attachment and attunement of the child to the mother/caregiver. It is crucial for the brain’s normal development that the mother give her child unconditional love. When that doesn’t happen, when the caregivers’ love is conditional, the child develops in a dysfunctional process of brain growth which can manifest as Attention Deficit Disorder. Carl Rogers taught therapists to give their clients unconditional positive regard. In this way the attachment/attunement disorders can be healed and the brain reconfigure itself.

Mate says,
The role of the therapist is, in part, that of a talking mirror in which the individual can see himself more clearly reflected, helping him to reflect on himself. Until he acquires the necessary skills, without a mirror he can no more see his psyche than his own eyes. The therapist must be able to extend to the client the attitude Carl Rogers called unconditional positive regard. “When a person is encouraged to get in touch with and express his deepest feelings,” writes British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Anthony Storr, “in the secure knowledge that he will not be rejected, criticized, nor expected to be different, some kind of rearrangement or sorting-out process often occurs within the mind which brings with it a sense of peace; a sense that the depths of the well of truth have really been reached.” (p. 279)

I recognized the quote and looked at my copy of Solitude: A Return to the Self (1989). There on page 22, in the chapter entitled “The Capacity to be Alone”, were my highlighting of the same passage. Well attached children don’t have a difficult time being alone. They are assured of their parent’s love (unconditional positive regard). Storr is talking about how creative people have sought solitude and is discussing solitude’s effect upon and its connection to their artistic creations. Of course he has to update the reader, as does Mate, on all the research regarding secure child attachment, but Storr is arguing that relationship to others is not the definitive characteristic of emotional and mental health. Creative genius is the focus of Storr’s book.
What struck me as synchronous is that Mate and I are reading all the same people. When we met in the lobby of the MAPS Conference in 2013, I discovered we shared the influence of Alice MillerAlice Miller and that we had a very similar cultural clientele. Like most of the intellectual philosophers whom Storr describes in his book, I was slow to pick up my colleague’s work. I had just finished Solitude when Scattered arrived in my mail box. Reading Mate’s book on the hidden effects of stress reminded me of The General Theory of Love and how my warts suddenly disappeared when I was surrounded with my loving spirit family. We were discussing the last remaining wart at the dinner table when my friend wanted to know, “who are you, really?”

About Michael J. Melville

People describe me as a Spiritual Catalyst because their spiritual evolution speeds up when they share their process with me. Discussing dreams, addictions, sacred medicines, family histories, or personal relationships moves one closer to the core, where the inner child dwells. Once contact with her/him is made, growth resumes.
This entry was posted in Jungian Psychotherapy, Native American Traditions, Philosophy and Psychology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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